Nubia Red Magic 5G hands-on

Nubia Red Magic 5G hands-on
The gaming smartphone is a weird niche for sure, but it’s here to stay. With dedicated hardware buttons that finally make FPS gaming viable on a smartphone and a plethora of different accessories now available for phones to hook up to bigger hardware, they are definitely capable of piquing a gamer’s interest.

Here, we have the Nubia Red Magic 5G. The latest gaming smartphone from ZTE’s subsidiary company, which rocks all the bells and whistles that gaming hardware needs — from RGB lighting to the built-in fan to keep it cool, and the very first 144 Hz screen on a smartphone. Well… is it cool? We have it in our hands right now, so let’s take a deeper look

Nubia Red Magic 5G display, design, sound

True to its gaming theme, the Nubia Red Magic 5G has a pretty aggressive design with a huge 6.65-inch display. The model we have is a stealthy black with subtle red accents showing through to drive the point across.

The screen is an AMOLED panel and you have plenty of options for color calibration — from choosing how warm or cold you want it to be to selecting from a few different color profiles, pre-made to fit racing games, MOBAs, or shooters.

Of course, the big deal here is that the screen can go up to 144 Hz refresh rate. In fact, when booting the Nubia Red Magic 5G for the first time, it boldly defaults to 90 Hz, which — as we know — is already noticeably smoother and silkier than the old 60 Hz standard. If you choose to go up to 144 from the Settings menu, you will be greeted by a message which explains that the phone will only amp up the refresh rate if you are playing a game that actually does support 144 Hz.

So, technically, the screen gives you the extra headroom, should a game require it, but it will move down to an appropriate refresh rate to save power whenever it isn’t needed.

The device feels fairly light to hold and its glossy back makes it stick to your hand, but having a case for it would probably be a good idea.

And yes, it has an in-screen fingerprint scanner — the optical type — and it works pretty consistently.

The Nubia Red Magic 5G rocks a stereo speaker in the familiar configuration — one bottom-firing driver and an earpiece that’s loud enough to double as a speaker. We weren’t blown away by amazing sound quality, but it’s loud and crisp, allowing you to enjoy your multimedia wherever you are. But many will be happy to know it still has a headphone jack — a feature that's slowly becoming a luxury.

Nubia Red Magic 5G performance, gaming, software

Out of the box, you get Android 10 dressed up as “Red Magic OS”. This is Nubia’s custom user interface for the Red Magic 5G, which feels a lot like stock Android — it’s mostly just a heavy reskin, but you won’t have a bunch of weird features thrown at you. And it runs pretty snappy, too.

Now, we did run into a lot of trouble when working with Google apps specifically. We should note that we are running on pre-production software, so some issues shouldn't be a surprise. The Google Play Store and Google Photos were the main offenders, but other apps like Google Drive and Gmail ran flawlessly. So, we will chalk it up to the software being in beta.

Update:a recent patch that Nubia released has fixed these compatibility issues and the Google apps run on the phone as expected

Those issues aside, it’s time to try the phone’s signature feature — gaming!

There is a hardware button on the side of the phone, which will technically transform it into an Android-powered gaming console. When you flick it, the built-in fan fires off and the phone enters into a game launcher, which you can not leave by accidentally making a “home” or “back” gesture. In gaming mode, gestures or navigation buttons are completely disabled.

You get a lot of gaming-oriented tools, from personal macros (a series of actions that you can trigger with just a flick), to the side-mounted shoulder buttons on the phone, and a crosshair overlay, which helps you stay on target even if the game’s crosshair is way too spread out.

Of course, games run brilliantly, thanks to the Snapdragon 865 inside the Red Magic 5G. The fan is not intrusive at all — it’s silent and it doesn’t blow into your hands. The phone still gets warm-ish, but not searing hot, which is probably thanks to the cooling system. If you still feel like the fan should be doing more, you can override its auto-adjustment and set it to always be running at max RPM. This does make it audible, though.

The shoulder buttons are not pressure-sensitive. They are touch pads, but their position and very heavy engraving makes them easy to find or avoid with your fingers.

Nubia Red Magic 5G camera

Of course, the camera is still a pretty big deal when it comes to smartphones. And while the Nubia Red Magic 5G’s focus is elsewhere, we’d say it also manages to make some pretty usable photos.

We’ve got a 64 MP main camera and a 2 MP macro camera. There are tons of modes in the camera app, most of which… gimmicky. But one can certainly have fun with the useful ones.

Photos come out pretty nice. They are detailed without being oversharpened, colors are honest and accurate, just vibrant enough. The phone does struggle a bit with dynamics, but one can work around those. The auto HDR doesn’t really kick in when it should — we found it best to manually activate HDR when we wanted to achieve the dynamic effect, and even then it isn’t the best we’ve seen.

It’s nice to see focus peaking in the manual mode as well as the macro mode — that’s something that even most big-name brands don’t still do. The Portrait Mode is pretty capable of discerning foreground from background.

The 8 MP selfie camera is not something to write home about. It gets the job done OK, but it’s soft on the details and it’s extremely easy to end up with a blurry selfie if you get shaky hands.

Nubia Red Magic 5G price, release date, final thoughts

The Nubia Red Magic 5G is definitely an interesting phone. It will delight gamers and we didn’t even get to try the gaming pad and TV dock that the phone can attach to. It also does a pretty good job as just being your regular smartphone — the design is nice, the performance and buttery-smooth display are great, the cameras are competent.

It’s going to be kind of costly, though. We don't have any official information yet, but word on the street is the Nubia Red Magic 5G price will start at around $550 in China, which means it will probably be a bit more than that for international markets. Its release date is still kind of vague — pre-orders will kick off on the 14th of April.

You can check out more information about the Nubia Red Magic 5G on their official website. Also, there's a giveaway you may want to enter as well.

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